Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The importance of forgiveness

What a difference a day makes.

Over the last few days, together with my brother, I performed my duty in dealing with the remaining effects of my father after his recent death. In my last blog I stated I would not attend the funeral, and I didn't, but I was there, waiting outside, supporting my brother and my aunt.

We then travelled to his apartment, which was within a sheltered housing block. I was very aware that as I turned the key in the lock it would be the first time it had been opened since he left 2 weeks ago. As I entered, in the hall hanging up were his coat and a cap.

From there it was into the living room. This was a surprise. For all his 79 years there was little to show for it. Some faded prints on the wall and a scattering of small ornaments, mostly with a Royal Air Force theme, for he had served his national service in his younger days. There was an old black & white photograph of him from his RAF days, and it is this that I have kept in his memory. I didn't think that I would want anything, but I'm glad now I kept this.

There was a small bay window which looked out over a thick wood, shimmering in the days sunshine.
At the window was a table and a seat, and on that table was a newly started jigsaw. His glasses lay at one end. I could picture him sitting there, his favourite spot, enjoying the view as he clicked the pieces together. Jigsaw making was his favourite pastime for as far back as I can remember, and all around were finished jigsaws mounted in frames. This was one he would never finish. This sight overwhelmed me with compassion for him.

Various other residents called in while we were there and we learned of how he would take his powered mobility scooter into the local town to pick up newspapers and bits and pieces for them. One resident said, "he couldn't do enough for them". It pleased me that despite what he had put me through in my childhood he had created a new life that entailed helping others. Apparently he was their weekly bingo caller.

I learned that this past year had been a tough time for him. Last year he had lost someone dear to him, and coincidentally it had happened on the day of my mums birthday. He died just before the anniversary of that, and I wonder if his demise was partly due to that, for he had not looked after himself recently and he had abused his body to an enormous degree over the years.

We were on a very limited time window to clear the apartment of his belongings, and due to it being very far away from where we live, there was next to nothing we could take back. The Salvation Army benefited greatly from all the furniture, pictures and larger ornaments, which I thought was fitting. However, as I went around disposing of odds and ends, little tiny trinkets that meant nothing to me but represented either a moment in time or a person to him, made me think about my own possessions. I have various items in a similar vain, that when my time comes and someone is clearing my effects, will wonder why I kept such things. I have a couple of broken items that I can't let go of because they were either a gift from someone special or were from a special time shared. But I can imagine someone lifting those broken items and wondering why I had kept them. We all have things like this, and they are so precious to us. One of the most precious would no doubt be photographs. Those snap shots of time. Happy times. It has always upset me that 20 years ago following my mums death my father dumped every last photograph my mum had collected. Thousands of photographs going back generations. That was probably the most insensitive thing he had ever done. Barely a half dozen survive.

Then I opened a drawer. It was full of junk, but at the bottom of the drawer were just a few old photographs. A number were of my brothers son, and two very small ones, one of my brother and one of me. But then I found a picture of my old deli. I was moved that despite our mutual lack of contact my achievement with the deli had meant something to him. I don't think he knew that last year I had cycled across the USA.

Within 24 hours the entire apartment was empty, right down to the carpets. Only outline marks on the wall remained where once he had hung his pictures. It was sad that it had been cleared so quickly, his presence erased from this earth forever.

Today, back home, I find myself sad that I had not forgiven him for the past. He was too proud himself to ever have called me up to say sorry. He was indeed very stubborn and selfish, but we can all be like that at times. Not to forgive someone can create feelings of bitterness and frustration with life that can affect your own personality and affect those around you that you hold dearest, especially those we love. I know this has happened with me.

After all is said and done, he was the one who earned the money that had clothed and fed me, and despite his abuse of me in the past I never went hungry or cold. I have missed my opportunity to visit him and forgive him face to face, but I find that today, I feel compassion for him, and I'm sad that he died alone. I no longer feel angry with him.

More importantly I find that today, I can forgive him.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Death of a tyrant

On Tuesday 13 March my father died. I'm sure the title of this blog now has you puzzled. Let me explain.

I think that the majority of who we are is a product of nurture and that many of our personality traits and default behaviours can be closely attributed to our upbringing.

His demise has recently resurrected some difficult memories that I thought I had locked away, memories which are both difficult to recall and write, but I cannot make sense of this blog if I don't share one or two of them with you.

From a very young age he was regularly violent with me. He didn't drink at all, so his treatment of me was even more difficult to understand. My aunt reckons he was jealous of the love my mother gave to me, but I don't know for sure.

I recall on one particular day I was running home after school, desperate for the toilet. I didn't make it unfortunately. I think the phrase is, "followed through". Eventually I reached home, not at all happy at my predicament, and neither was my father.

He pushed me, together with a few choice expletives, into the bathroom ordering me to clean up in the bath. As the door slammed and I locked it, I recall saying out loud through my distress, that I wouldn't go to school tomorrow. What happened next surprises me to this day. He broke down the door, taking it clean off the hinges, and launched at me with his fists. It took me several days to recover. I was eight years old.

I could fill a book with these stories, such was the regularity of these events. Not the urgency for the bathroom you understand, but his beatings for no reason.

The worst event happened when I was 12. I don't even recall what I done to deserve it now. All I can remember is he kicked and punched me from one end of the house to the other, leaving a trail of my blood on the floor, walls and radiators. The following day I awoke with a face black and blue and two of the darkest black eyes you ever did see. The upside was I was kept off school, but I think that was more for his benefit than mine. I think it would be fair to say that if he had done these terrible things today to a child he would have been behind bars. But he lived the last years of his life quite comfortably and literally got away with it.

All this was compounded with constant bullying at school by fellow pupils and a few teachers as well. I had nowhere to turn. One of my coping mechanisms was to invent my own worlds and mini adventures, and I wonder if that is now why I pursue a career in storytelling and seek out exciting real life adventures.

I also now understand why I have so much difficulty in fully appreciating and holding on to love and I regularly respond negatively to anyone who puts even the smallest obstacle in my way, for maybe deep in my subconscious is the belief it is a form of bullying.

Of course we can change the way we behave, but something so hard wired at such an early age is difficult to alter fundamentally.

For 17 years I gave of my time to help run a local youth group, the Boys Brigade, and I often wonder if this was an attempt to experience something good of childhood through the boys I led.

Over the past years I've been lucky to receive love and support from some very special people, especially one in particular. I have not been very good at reciprocating, and though it would be wrong to blame the past, I apologise to them now, for my lack of empathy and appreciation and not doing enough to love them back.

I know I'm not alone with these type of negative experiences, and that it creates a predisposition to negativity in later life. It is enormously disappointing and upsetting and my thoughts and hopes go out to all who have suffered similar experiences.

Parenting is an enormous responsibility, and I marvel at how great those friends of mine are at taking on that difficult job, nurturing a new life to be all they can be. I am envious of the wonderful, loving family environments they have created.

Some would say I am a survivor. I would say, time will tell.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Wildcat Trail

It was my birthday just a few days ago and as a special treat, together with my good friend Andrew, I ventured off into the Scottish Highlands to walk the Wildcat Trail, which starts from the small Highland village of Newtonmore.

It was a very early start, but the train journey there is all part of the fun. Old memories returned as we settled in to tea and shortbread and Andrew drew me in to a cryptic crossword. We chatted along the way of past adventures in Scotland with our friend Pauline. We gazed out of the window as the railway meandered through some great countryside, now starting to show the first signs of Spring.

By 9.30am we had arrived at Newtonmore and set off. The Wildcat Trail is a very easy walk of under 8 miles and only rises 100m overall, but the variety and changes in landscape round almost every corner are what makes this one of the most enjoyable walks in this area.

Along the way are sites of historic interest, some dating back 3,000 years. Early settlements that grew their own food and milled their own flour. At one I stood and marvelled at the fact that I was looking at the very same view of the mountains that these early Scots had done three millennia ago.
As I soaked it in I was abruptly aware of a shrill shriek coming from the moor in front of me.
All of a sudden a very acrobatic bird shot into the air, twisting and turning at great speed. Then another, and another, all with jet black wings and bright white undersides. At one point they landed and we came quite close to them and could make out the distinctive swooped back spike on their heads. Lapwings. Defending their ground nests because of our presence. A great treat to watch.

Lunch was at a small waterfall, a point where I had stopped on a previous trip to this trail with my friend Pauline, who is at this point somewhere outside Istanbul still pedalling away. It is thanks to Pauline that I even knew this great trail was here and I have fond memories of that time.

As we neared journeys end I spotted something that I had seen near the start of the walk in someone's garden. To digress a moment, some of you may have seen the touring exhibition of brightly coloured cows that popped up around the world in major cities. Whilst in Fargo, North dakota last year, I noticed someone had done a similar thing with buffalo.
Well, clearly someone in the little village of Newtonmore had taken inspiration from this and had produced a series of wildcats with similar, whacky, colourful designs, and dotted them all around. The actual wildcat is a very elusive and rare creature and you are very unlikely to ever see one, so I thought it was a great addition to the walk.

By 2pm we were on the train again with our tea and shortbread and a further attempt to solve the crossword.

We never did finish it.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The mirror

Not too long ago I finished building a bathroom for a close friend.

It was a complex project and took many days, but the end result was stunning, though I say so myself. The final task was a thorough clean, but because the silicon seals were still drying, any dust disturbed could have settled on it and ruined the finished look. So I agreed with my friend that he would happily do the clean up the next day.

The following afternoon he phoned me, concerned. He was having great difficulty cleaning the mirror on the cabinet. He'd almost managed to use up an entire bottle of Mr Sheen and the more he cleaned it, the worse it seemed to get. I was curious and puzzled but it demanded a closer look.

As I stood in front of the mirror I could hardly see any refection. It was indeed a poor excuse for a mirror. I leaned in closer and as I did so something in one corner of the mirror caught my eye. I picked away at the spot and suddenly a single sheet of semi opaque film peeled cleanly off the surface leaving a perfect reflection looking back!

All to often though I don't like what I see. But that's another story.